Liz Theoharis, This Can’t Be as “Good” as It Gets

By Liz Theoharis
March 10, 2024

It’s not complicated. This country, as TomDispatch regular and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign Liz Theoharis makes clear today, is simply unprepared — unprepared, that is, to keep all too many Americans even reasonably healthy and well. It matters little that this may be the wealthiest country on the planet. (It certainly has the most billionaires!) I mean, there was a brief period after the Covid pandemic hit when a national public health emergency was declared, but that ended last May. It matters little that this country could, for instance, be experiencing the worst surge of Covid cases since that massive wave of them in the winter of 2021-2022, with deaths significantly lower but still topping 1,500 a week. Who’s paying attention? Who even cares?
And is this country faintly prepared for the next pandemic? I wouldn’t count on it. Not for a second. Worse yet, it’s not prepared for another kind of pandemic that Theoharis lays out so strikingly today — the gutting of healthcare for all too many Americans. And believe me (as you’ll see when you read her piece), that, too, should be considered a pandemic of some sort and the richest country on this planet should truly be ashamed of itself. Tom
The slang definition of “unwinding” means “to chill.” Other definitions include: to relax, disentangle, undo — all words that, on the surface, appear both passive and peaceful. And yet in Google searches involving such seemingly harmless definitions of decompressing and resting, news articles abound about the end of pandemic-era Medicaid expansion programs — a topic that, for the millions of people now without healthcare insurance, is anything but relaxing.
Imagine this: since March 2023, 16 million Americans — yes, that’s right, 16 million — have lost healthcare coverage, including four million children, as states redefine eligibility for Medicaid for the first time in three years. Worse yet, the nation is only halfway through the largest purge ever of Medicaid as the expansion and extension of healthcare to millions, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, have ended, leaving some families no longer eligible, while others need to reapply through a new process in their state.
This thrusting of tens of millions of Americans out of the national healthcare system at a moment when healthcare outfits, pharmaceutical companies, and health insurance corporations are making record profits has been termed “the great unwinding.” And it couldn’t be more cruelly ironic. After all, states have the power and authority to expand healthcare to all their residents; the federal government could similarly extend the declaration of a public health emergency that would let so many of us keep distinctly life-protecting access to healthcare. Yet millions have instead been pushed violently and rapidly from such life-saving care.
Some states are feeling the impact especially strongly. In Georgia, for instance, more than 149,000 children lost their pandemic Medicaid enrollment in just six months. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Texas is the epicenter of Medicaid’s unwinding. There, more than two million Americans have been removed from the state’s Medicaid program since federal pandemic-era coverage protections were lifted last April. As Axios reported, new state data indicates “that’s the most of any state and nearly equivalent to all of Houston — Texas’ most populous city, with 2.3 million residents — losing coverage in less than a year.” In fact, 61% of enrollees in Texas have lost Medicaid since last April.
Death by Poverty and the Lack of Healthcare
In my home state, policy analysts predict that more than 1.1 million New Yorkers will be pushed off Medicaid roles in this same unwinding. Fortunately, people are organizing in response, calling for the right to healthcare, living wages, the abolition of…